Mission Impossible: Fallout

August 2, 2018

We know what we hope for when we go to see another film in the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible franchise. And we know what we want. We want impossible. Impossible stunts. Impossible tension. Impossible plot reversals. Impossible deceptions. In Mission: Impossible – Fallout we get it all, and much more. 


We also get a soundscape that turns the familiar Mission Impossible theme tune into a powerful motif - a brand, if you like - that you (if you’re me) just want to keep on hearing. The music made me stay until the credits ended. I allowed myself to become addicted to this all-powerful musical motif and every giant drum beat.


The Chris who directed MI Fallout so well knows what the other Chris knows: that music and sound design can make or break a film. Both McQuarrie and Nolan, it seems, inspired the composers (Lorne Balfe, extemporising on Lalo Schifrin’s original "Mission Impossible Theme", and Hans Zimmer – Dark Knight etc.) they worked with to create gigantic, tribal mantras that can imprint cinematic stories in the only place worth imprinting stories: on the human subconscious.  


I think I wanted to stay with this film until the end of the credits for another reason, however. And it beats. 


The very best modern action/thriller films can rival  Mission: Impossible – Fallout for action set-pieces, plot intrigue, and reversals revealed in impossible circumstances etc. Reviewing for Roger Ebert, Brian Tallerico writes, ‘Think of the way the stunts in “Mad Max: Fury Road” become a part of the storytelling. Think of how “Die Hard” flows so smoothly from scene to scene, making us feel like we’re right there with John McClane. Think of the dazzling editing of “Baby Driver” and the way it incorporates sound design, music, and action into a seamless fabric ... “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” reminds me of these films. It’s got that finely-tuned, perfect blend of every technical element that it takes to make a great action film, all in service of a fantastic script and anchored by great action performances to not just work within the genre but to transcend it.’ (https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/mission-impossible---fallout-2018)


High praise indeed. And he’s right. For me though, and I suspect many others (if subconsciously), Mission: Impossible – Fallout delivers heart. When the team battles against impossible odds and, of course, the clock, to save millions of people, the verity ‘for evil to succeed, all good people have to do is nothing’ came rushing to mind. 


Perhaps this far-reaching truth is becoming ever more germane to the era we live in. Like truth and lies, good and bad have become blurred into one pixelated state of confusion. I worry that young people are confused, and that the media and the internet are partly responsible. I worry for democracy. I worry for many things, as no doubt do you. So perhaps now, seeing a pleasantly familiar team of heroes go to any lengths to stop maniacs and morons causing suffering seems particularly poignant (especially if you’re a parent). 


I was moved by the jaw-dropping, white-knuckle climax of this film because at its heart – in Ving Rhames’ eyes, in our mate Simon Pegg’s everyman face, in Rebecca Fergusson’s grace (particularly after Ilsa establishes and follows her moral compass: she joins the team), and in the poignant death of Alan Hunley - the character played arch Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin – I saw heart.

 

The heart thumped out of the giant soundscape and became, to me, the mantra of right action: of defying the liars and the porn-politicos and the selfish thugs and the fools who run the world. Of saying: enough is enough.


This is, of course, a highly subjective response. But that subjectivity tells me something: that a critical film script consultant and analytical screenwriter like me can go see a film and not sit there grinding his teeth at all the plot absurdities and other shortcomings in the screenwriting. This is, of course, because Mission: Impossible and I go back a long way. And that’s the beauty of the long-term franchise: you have a built-in audience. Making franchise films can tempt filmmakers to do less to wow their audiences (you know who you are). You might just think hey – they’ll still come and see our film in their millions because they just want more of the same, only different. We’ll still make a profit. It would be cynical. It would suck. But you could probably get away with it. You could keep your film investors happy. 


The team behind Mission: Impossible – Fallout decided not to get away with it. They seem to have decided to make an outstanding action/thriller film that would stand alone. (Because if this film wasn’t a sequel, it would stand alone.) I take my hat off to them.

 
Quibbles? Of course. Why wouldn’t Ethan Hunt (who is an expert in wielding his most powerful weapon: information) know exactly where his estranged wife Julia Meade-Hunt (Michelle Monaghan) was and what she’s doing and why. He loves her. Of course he would.

 

And why go into the club in Paris via a HALO jump from a vastly expensive and otherwise unused military cargo aircraft? Surely a Cessna at 3,000 feet - if they had to parachute in at all, which as far as I could see they didn't; they could have just walked in like everyone else does.   

 
And when Hunt goes to the medical facility in Kashmir to track down the bombs that The Apostles want to detonate to (cliché alert) sweep away the old-world order and start afresh (I know) why would he therefore be thrown when he meets Julia? (because this is the emotional spine of the story, and Ethan’s personal backstory – his flaw, according to his enemies). 
It’s also weak that Julia’s presence seems to determine the location of the bombs, which, when detonated, will contaminate the glacier that feeds many millions with water in and around the Indian subcontinent - unless she was only taken to Kashmir so that she would die too (except she’s been working there for a while?). Julia is used as a pawn to get Hunt to play ball by August Walker (Henry Cavill), as in: do what we say or Julia dies. Better, surely, to just strap Julia to a bomb downtown Manhattan and start the clock ticking. 


The problem is, we’ve seen that scenario a million times, and Chris McQuarrie (who is also credited, with Bruce Geller, as screenwriter on Mission: Impossible – Fallout) clearly wanted to do something new. But the Kashmir action climax plot is questionable. Bombs in, say, New York, Moscow, and Beijing would spread the team out geographically and thus weaken it, and perhaps make success less likely. The screenwriters knew, however, that fragmenting the team would fragment the nuclear family. Apart, the team members are alone. Together, they are as one in the face of death and difficulty. This union is at the core of this film. We stand together. Maybe we die together. But we are as one. It’s powerful stuff. So if the screenwriters had done something more logical from the bad guys’ POV and had them place bombs in places far apart, the climax would have been weakened by the team’s fragmentation.

 

This is a textbook example of the challenges facing screenwriters trying to sculpt good screenplay plots.

 
Ultimately of course, I, like everyone else, dwelt less on the plot (at times almost too complex to understand, as is the Mission Impossible tradition) while watching the film and more (and much more viscerally) on the mind-blowing action sequences. It's useful to note that these were (to me) more powerful when crammed into the busy streets of Paris than they were in the wide-open spaces of Kashmir. The vanishing points and claustrophobic verticals of an urban environment pressure-cooked the action. In the wide vistas of Kashmir, much work was needed to ramp the pressure up again. But boy did it ever get ramped. The helicopter scenes were, well … go see it, if you haven’t yet. Enjoy.


Much has been said about this film. So I will say no more. You will have your own thoughts – and no doubt they may be at odds with mine. I will only say that yours truly was the last to leave the cinema, and I’ve walked out of some very high-profile films that many have raved about.


Ultimately, Ethan Hunt will fail to beat the ultimate clock: Tom Cruise’ age. Another Mission Impossible film, which Cruise will likely act in, will stretch credulity re how old a field agent of this sort can be. Now might be a good time for Mr Cruise to bow out – while he’s at the top (because I think this is the best film in the Mission Impossible franchise, and I just loved the first). He will no doubt continue an involvement behind the camera. But can we imagine Ethan Hunt played by anyone else? I don’t think we can. I don’t think we should have to. When Mr Cruise admits that he is too old to play Ethan Hunt, the franchise should be put to bed. But we all know it won’t be. There’s too much money to be made and too much fun to be had. For me, the answer is simple: Make Ilsa Faust the central character. I don't see a downside.

 

Mission: Impossible – Fallout has set the bar very high for Bond 25. James Bond will have to pull his super-spy socks up if he wants to match this film.


With Brian Tallerico’s permission, I’ll leave the last words to him (in his review):


It’s easy to get cynical at the movies. With eight sequels in the top ten last week, more and more people see the Hollywood machine as just that, something that spits out product instead of art or even entertainment. Perhaps the best thing I can say about “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is that it destroys cynicism. It truly does what so many people have looked for in entertainment for over a century—a chance for real-world worries to take a back seat for a couple hours. You’ll be too busy worrying how Ethan Hunt is going to get out of this one to care about anything outside the theater. It's a rare action movie that can do that so well that you not only escape but walk out kind of invigorated and ready to take on the world. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is one of those movies.
 

I couldn’t agree more.

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